sandler2.jpg
Tracy Bennett
Samberg (left) plays a character born in the '80s. Sandler seems stuck there.
The Dinner : Mushroom burger and fries, at Kidd Valley

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A Very Retro Date With Adam Sandler

sandler2.jpg
Tracy Bennett
Samberg (left) plays a character born in the '80s. Sandler seems stuck there.
The Dinner: Mushroom burger and fries, at Kidd Valley (531 Queen Anne Ave. N.).

The Movie: That's My Boy, at Meridian (1501 Seventh Ave.).

The Screenplate: When did the '80s end? With Ronald Reagan or Vanilla Ice? Those questions come to mind with Adam Sandler's new comedy, which begins in 1984 then leaps some 27 years ahead. Yet in the present day, Sandler's character Donny, first met at a 13-year-old studying for his bar mitzvah, has failed to make the same jump. He drives a decrepit old Pontiac Fiero with duct-taped windows and a faded Rush band logo stenciled on the hood. Inside, of course, he still listens to oldies rock on cassette tapes. He's a daytime drinker (Bud) coasting on the memories and declining income from his salad days. Way back when--here recall our own Mary Kay Letourneau affair--teenage Donny had sex with his teacher. She got pregnant and was sent to jail. Unfit parent Donny then raised a son he named Han Solo (the reason: obvious). Resentful teen Han later abandoned his loser of a father (the reason: obvious), renamed himself Todd, and became a hedge-fund manager. Our movie really begins on the weekend of Todd's wedding, as Donny tries to raise $43,000 to pay back taxes or go to jail. The premise to the comedy (originally called I Hate You, Dad) is okay, but Sandler's basic gag--endlessly repeated--is this: Donny hasn't changed at all since the '80s, and it's Todd who needs to evolve. All of which means no fusion cuisine or anything fancy for dinner, because Donny hates anything fancy or pretentious...

Sandler, now 45, got his start in showbiz in the late '80s, even appearing on The Cosby Show before graduating NYU. Saturday Night Live made him a star in the '90s, and his Hollywood career has proven to be remarkably durable and profitable. He doesn't give interviews and presumably doesn't read reviews--including those for works-for-hire (notably Punch Drunk Love and Funny People). That's My Boy is very much a Sandler product (through written by David Caspe and directed by Sean Anders) in which a stubbornly unfashionable guy with a good heart refuses to compromise and triumphs over all those who doubt him. It's a formula that worked well enough when Sandler was rising in his career with hits like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore. But today a rich, married, Malibu family man, Sandler seems unwilling to let go of that past. (Metaphorically, he's eating caviar these days, not cold pizza.)

So it is that Donny refuses to compromise his '80s tastes: the car, the oldies music (Loverboy, Van Halen, Rush....), the sleeveless jean jackets and bandanna accessories. He hangs out at a strip club and clings to his residual fame. The nostalgia runs from the '80s (cue the cameo from Todd Bridges, Willis on Different Strokes) to the early '90s (hello Vanilla Ice, who actually possesses a decent deadpan). Donny's atavism soon becomes exhausting (he's loud, lovable, and needy), and you begin to understand why son Todd grew so impatient with him. One New Kids on the Block joke is fine; any more than that, and you begin looking for the exit. And, as with any Sandler-produced film, you know where things are headed. Once Donny declares his opposition to Todd's fiancée (Leighton Meester) and boss (Tony Orlando ... yes, that Tony Orlando), the fate of the snooty Cape Cod wedding is written. Forget the champagne. Bud and cold pizza will prevail.

Choosing a meal to suit Donny is no less simple: A burger at Kidd Valley, which is also resistant to change (though in a good way). The food shack, now with eight stand-alone locations, hasn't expanded its menu much since 1975, nor does it need to. A mushroom burger and fries costs only eight bucks--a good deal when you consider inflation, and cheaper than a movie ticket, too. There's no charm to the Lower Queen Anne KV, located in a strip mall, but at least it doesn't demand your respect or gratitude. (If Donny were a restaurant, he'd heave a brick through the windows at Canlis.)

Still, you can't simply dismiss Sandler as being lowbrow, since he belongs to the old comic tradition of the leveler. His characters reliably tweak pretension and humble the arrogant. Donny is a churlish kind of populist, not quite a bully, though he pushes his self-validation way too far. "I'm a good person," he insists to his son; and That's My Boy is entirely, tediously devoted to proving that point. It is the children, not the parents, who must change. Yet when old pros Susan Sarandon and James Can show up, separately, they show a different kind of wisdom. They're playing characters comfortable with their wrinkles. The years pass, they know, and you can't become fixated on one particular decade or cling to your youth. Put differently, you can't eat cold pizza or burgers every day for your whole life. Tastes change. Times change. We change. But Todd never says that to Donny in the film. And in Hollywood, certainly, no one would ever say that to Sandler.

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